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									A Solar System Perspective on Laboratory Astrophysics

Dale P. Cruikshank
MS 245-6
NASA Ames Research Center
Moffett Field, CA 94035-1000


Planetary science deals with a wide variety of natural materials in a wide variety of
environments. Materials include metals, minerals, ices, gases, plasmas, and organic
chemicals. In addition, the newly defined discipline of astrobiology introduces biological
materials to planetary science. The environments range from the interiors of planets with
megapascal pressures to planetary magnetospheres, encompassing planetary mantles,
surfaces, atmospheres, and ionospheres in between. The interplanetary environment
includes magnetic and electrical fields, plasma, and dust. In order to understand
planetary processes over these vast ranges, the properties of materials must be known,
and most of the necessary information comes from the laboratory.

Observations by remote sensing of the bodies and materials in the Solar System from
Earth or spacecraft, are accomplished over the full range of the electromagnetic spectrum.
Comets exemplify this assertion; molecular and atomic identifications are made from the
hard ultraviolet to radio wavelengths, while X-rays are emitted as comets interact with
the solar wind. Gamma rays from the surfaces of the Moon and asteroids are diagnostic
of the mineral and ice content of those bodies; eventually, gamma rays will also be
observed by probes to comets.

A number of planetary materials are available in the laboratory for extensive study.
Rocks from the Moon, Mars, and a number of asteroids, as well as dust from comets (and
perhaps the Kuiper Belt) are closely studied at every level, including atomic (isotopic).
Even pre-solar interstellar grains isolated from meteorites are scrutinized for composition
and crystalline structure.

Beyond the materials themselves, various agents and processes have altered them over
the 4.6-Gy age of the Solar System. Solar radiation, solar wind particles, trapped
magnetospheric particles, cosmic rays, and micrometeoroid impact have produced
chemical, physical, and morphological changes in the atmospheres and on the surfaces of
all planetary bodies. These processes are not well understood, and their study in a
laboratory setting is especially needed.

Laboratory Data Needed for Planetary Science

A number of problems in contemporary planetary science have generated specific needs
for additional laboratory work, and we review a sampling of those here.
Planetary interiors: For the giant planets the equations of state1 for pressures >3 MPa
must be understood better for H2, H2+He, and H3. How do the equations of state change
when H2 is shocked? In the context of the interiors of the Galilean satellites it is
important to study saline solutions, while other materials (notably ices) present in the
interiors of large planetary satellites and distant bodies in the outermost Solar System
(Kuiper Belt objects) require further investigation.

Planetary atmospheres: Various planetary missions already completed or in progress
are driving the need for additional laboratory work. In studies of Mars, high accuracy
measurements of line strengths of CO2 and H2O in the near-infrared are needed. For
Jupiter and Saturn, spectral measurements of CO broadening by H2 and He are relevant.
Improved line strengths for PH3 are needed in the far-infrared (100-500 m).

In the Cassini investigation of Titan with the CIRS instrument, improved line strengths
and line-broadening parameters are needed for several materials, such as nitriles and
hydrocarbons throughout the mid- and far-infrared. The nitriles include HCN, HC3N,
and C2N2, acetonitrile (CH3CN), acrylonitrile (CH2CHCN) and proprionitrile
(CH3CH2CN) in the 14-50-m range. Among the hydrocarbons, pure rotation lines of
CH4 near 100 m will probe the temperature of the lower stratosphere of Titan.
Improved line strengths in the 12-30-m range are needed for methyl acetylene
(CH3CCH) and allene (CH2CCH2) are needed. A possible condensate and component of
Titan’s aerosol smog is diacetylene (C4H2) requires further laboratory spectroscopic
studies to support the data expected from the CIRS investigation.

There are unsettled questions regarding the colors of the clouds of the outer planets,
including the source of the color in Jupiter’s Great Red Spot. There may be a
“weathering” phenomenon in the clouds, the consequence of which causes the NH3
clouds of Jupiter and Saturn to lose their NH3 spectral signatures over time. The
coloring agents in the stratospheric clouds of Uranus and Neptune are also not

Planetary surfaces: Surface materials include ices, minerals, and organic solids. There
is a large body of reflectance and emittance spectroscopy of minerals, a lesser amount for
ices, and very little for organic solids. All areas of laboratory investigation need support,
particularly for ices and organic solids. Spectra alone are insufficient for modeling
needs, because spectrum matching is an inadequate means for making identifications of
materials present on a planetary surface, and is not sufficiently quantitative. Spectrum
modeling by scattering theory (e.g., Hapke or Shkuratov) provides a more quantitative
evaluation of species present, plus information on particle sizes, and critical details on the
mixing of components. Spectrum modeling with scattering theory requires that the
complex refractive indices of candidate materials be determined at a suitable spectral
resolution and over the necessary range of wavelength. Such data are available for a very

  The equations of state describe the relationships of the directly observable quantities that specify the
thermodynamic state of a system. For fluids, these are pressure, volume, and temperature (P, V, T); for
solids these are the same quantities plus stress and strain components; for ferromagnets these are the same
quantities plus the applied field H and magnetization M.
limited number of materials, thus restricting the range of modeling parameters that can be

Specifically, there is a need for complex refractive indices from the UV to the mid-IR for
minerals, ices, and organic solids of planetary interest. Minerals include igneous
silicates, salts, carbonates, sulfides, and oxides. Ices include hydrocarbons and nitriles in
amorphous and crystalline phases, and in matricies (N2, Ar, H2O). Organic solids include
extracts from carbonaceous meteorites, terrestrial kerogens, and synthetic organics
(tholins) produced by energy deposition in gases and solids of planetary significance.

Space processing: Planetary materials exposed to the space environment are impacted
by solar UV, solar wind particles, galactic cosmic rays, micrometeoroids, and
macrometeoritic collisions, all of which serve to alter the chemical, crystal, and
microphysical characteristics of surface materials. These processes must be factored into
the interpretation of remote sensing observations of planetary bodies, insofar as their
effects are understood. There is a wide range of experimental studies that can be
conducted in the laboratory to expand our understanding of the processes of sputtering,
radiation darkening, organic production, ablation, and many others.


In addition to specific areas of laboratory measurements that are critical for the
interpretation of planetary data, this subject has the unique and specialized needs for the
study and preservation on Earth of materials from space. Meteorites and interplanetary
dust particles collected on the surface, in the ice sheets, and in the high atmosphere, are a
priceless treasure of extraterrestrial materials that arrive on our planet free of charge. To
extract their secrets, these materials must be studied with the most modern analytical
techniques, and they must be preserved for future studies. Additionally, extraterrestrial
materials brought to Earth by space expeditions (including Apollo), also require study
and preservation. This part of the equation is not free of charge.

Lab Facilities for Returned Samples: Preparations must be made for the samples
returned from the Stardust, Genesis, Muses-C missions, and eventual returns from Mars
and a comet nucleus. This can be accomplished through the establishment of a realistic
laboratory instrument development program. The development of new analytical
technologies is especially urgent, with the greatest need being for development of organic
chemistry microanalysis. As new techniques are established and new analytical
equipment becomes available, the program priorities should shift to outfitting and
upgrading US labs.

Lab Facilities for the Study of Planetary Materials: Several ambitious NASA
planetary missions to planets, comets, and asteroids are in progress or in various stages of
advanced planning. Critical to the correct and complete interpretation of the
observational data acquired at great expense are laboratory studies that will provide data
of the kind mentioned earlier in this report. Such work is often inadequately supported,
either in existing laboratory facilities, or through the creation of new laboratories.
Curation: In preparation for the samples to be returned from the Stardust, Genesis,
Muses-C, as well as anticipated returns from Mars and a comet nucleus, support for
sample curation and handling is urgently needed at a significantly increased level over
that which exists today. The proper preservation (and quarantine) of each returned
sample for future investigations is of singular importance. The samples returned from
each object will impose specific handling and storage demands, which must be addressed
by separate, specialized facilities. The funding for these facilities, including long-term
operating costs are very unlikely to be included in each mission's budget. In preparation
for the return of cold samples from comets, development is needed in the areas of
cryocuration, robotic sample handling, and biological quarantine.


I thank Drs. W. B. Hubbard, K. Baines, G. Bjoraker, and M. Zolensky for their helpful
input to this work. Supported in part by NASA Planetary Astronomy RTOP 344-32-20-
01 21.


Several recent papers on photolysis and radiolysis of outer Solar System ices were
published as a special section of J. Geophys. Res. 106, pp. 33,273-33,392, 2001.

Two important books on the properties of ices are:

Schmitt, B., C. de Bergh, and M. Festou (eds.) Solar System Ices, Kluwer Academic
Publishers, Dordrecht. 826 pp. 1998.

Petrenko, V. F., and R. W. Whitworth. Physics of Ice, Oxford. 373 pp. 1999.

Two books of importance on rocks and minerals in planetary science are:

Pieters, C. M., and P. A. J. Englert (eds.) Remote Geochemical Analysis: Elemental
and Mineralogical Composition. Cambridge. 594 pp. 1993.

Papike, J. J. (ed.) Planetary Materials (Reviews in Mineralogy Vol. 36), Mineralogical
Soc. America. 1038 pp. 1999.

The U.S. Geological Survey library of mineral spectra:

Clark, R. N., G. A. Swayze, A. Gallagher, T. V. V. King, and W. M Calvin, U.S.
Geological Survey Digital Spectral Library: Version 1: 0.2 to 3.0 m. U.S.
Geological Survey Open File Report 93-592, http://speclab.cr.usgs.gov, 1340 pp. 1993.

Optical constants for several minerals can be found on the web site:

Another on-line source of spectra of minerals, rocks, some ices, meteorites, and lunar
materials is:


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